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I work in the cannabis industry as a vice president of social media and digital marketing for a public relations company, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
Yes, I successfully graduated from D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in the 1990s. You know, the one with the motto we’re all acquainted with - “Just Say No.”
At my New Hampshire high school, my classes were all formatted as round-table discussions, and the student body very diverse. At just 14 years old, I was lucky enough to tackle issues like race, sexism and ethics with fellow students from around the world.
By senior year, I’d managed to make friends with the most random assortment of people. Call me Mikey, because leader of “The Goonies” was and still is my dream job. I realized I loved meeting people from everywhere and any background, listening to them, finding out what makes them tick and working with them to tell their stories.
It was why small-town journalism was the perfect match after college graduation, until it wasn’t. Jobs dried up and I chameleoned myself into a social media marketer, working in start-ups and corporate jobs alike.
That said, the social media world is one of passive, often anonymous connection at times. Whether I was in corporate or the start-up world, I always enjoyed my new experience, but nothing quite recaptured that feeling of journalism — the rewarding slog of getting down to brass tacks with a stranger; having real and sometimes difficult conversations and finding a way to put it all together again to tell a story that anyone could read and relate to.
That was until I moved to California and found myself working for a public relations company working to represent clients in the world of cannabis. CANNABIS. C-A-N-N-A-B-I-S.
By that time I’d warmed to cannabis — I knew people who used CBD to manage anxiety. Others I knew had seen the benefits of cannabis while undergoing cancer treatments. Yet another had considered it for her epileptic child to minimize seizures.
Though I personally had softened on the topic, it still didn’t quite jive with the way I was raised. Sure, I’m from New Hampshire - “Live Free or Die” is our state motto, but cannabis culture on the West Coast was a very far cry from the Bud Light loving tailgaters at Gillette Stadium. Was cannabis in New England? Of course (hello, Vermont), but it wasn’t what is, at least in my experience, on the West Coast.
I was afraid to tell anyone back home I worked as a social media marketer in the cannabis industry, helping clients manage their public images, social media accounts and customer service programs. When I honestly answered the question: “what do you do for work?” Californians wouldn’t bat an eye, but some New Englanders (at least the ones I was raised with), would raise their brows instead.
I think I was even questioning myself — cannabis was a brave new world. Though I’d always been a diehard hippie at heart, I couldn’t deny I’d been raised in a very different world. Surely, I wouldn’t be accepted or fit in here - in the CANNABIS industry.
But the funny part is, I did.
It all hit me when I went to Oregon and stood in a hemp field — the smell of terpenes wafting into my nostrils from every angle; people hand-picking hemp from morning until night; the beauty of the plants themselves. Cannabis isn’t just an industry, it’s a craft and a deeply personal point of pride and passion at every level of the business.
There is, without doubt, a Green Rush - people are trying to cash in on a trend to make a buck. But for every one of those people, there are 100 more - native Californians, New Yorkers hungry for legalization, a Filipino who used to work in the music industry, farmers trading tobacco for hemp, Canadians, mothers, sibling business partners, LBGTQ activists, intuitive healers, seniors and veterans using cannabis to overcome PTSD. The list goes on and on.
Within this group of misfits (I say that with adoration), I work as a social media and digital marketer, but I’ve also found other parts of myself again. For the first time in a long time, I find myself combining my passion and skillsets in a way I never have before -- problem-solving with people equally as passionate as I am about coming up with solutions. Each day we find ourselves navigating ever-changing compliance laws together, getting around inconsistent social media policies and investigating reports looking for truths.
Cannabis is quite literally the Wild West. The industry is far from perfect. There are sexism, social equity and serious underage usage issues and very legitimate health concerns currently being investigated by the FDA.
Long story short — we’re at many pivotal moments in this country, whether it be in the realm of politics, gender, race, class, generational relations, sexuality, healthcare, mental health, technology — again, the list goes on and on. What I’ve quickly learned is the topic of cannabis hits every issue and every kind of person. It’s a microcosm of the world we live in and one that is often judged. At the same time, there are many stories to be told. I’m appreciative I’ve had the opportunity to help with that if even in small ways.
This stuff can be exhausting — you get in the muck, but you do get it done with some really damn cool people in the process.
Working in cannabis, I’m able to leverage all different parts of my personality and skillsets. Depending on the day and the problem to solve, I can call up:
- the East Coast perfectionist student
- that journalist with heart and plenty of moxie
- the seasoned corporate marketer
- a horticulture enthusiast (seriously, I have something like 85 houseplants hanging out in my house and believe it or not, none of them are cannabis)
So, with that. I’ll go back to you, mom.
You always struck the perfect balance. Sure you kept me on the straight and narrow (remember when you made me use a ruler to keep my equals signs straight on my math homework?), but you always let me find my own way.
Find my own way, I did. I just never thought it would be here, and I never expected to like what I’m doing so much. I’m sure you didn’t expect any of this either. Thank you for understanding.